Published by Bethany House Publishers on December 6, 2016
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“Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.” Henry Ford
The Bell of Ivy Hill is the setting at the very heart of Julie Klassen’s latest release, “The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill,” and as the epicenter of this new series, The Bell has a history and a significance to the central characters within this story that makes this location feel almost like a character itself. When widow Jane Bell, realizes that she must find a way to save The Bell from becoming lost to creditors she also comes to see that the loss of the inn would have far-reaching effects for the residents of Ivy Hill. Nearly out of mourning for her husband who passed away in an accident, what Jane didn’t count on was the return of her mother-in-law, Thora Bell, who is not only the inn’s former mistress, but who is also connected from childhood to the inn.
From the very first moments of Thora’s return to Ivy Hill, readers learn that her relationship with Jane is strained and filled with distrust. As she comes back to Ivy Hill harboring her own secrets, it becomes clear that Thora is determined to find fault with Jane’s management of The Bell. Yet, she comes to realize that Jane may actually be her best ally in her crusade to help get The Bell back on track again, in the hopes the inn will return to being a source of pride and income for her family and the surrounding community. Their relationship reminded me a bit of Hannah Thornton’s and Margaret Hale’s relationship from North and South.
However, Jane and Thora aren’t the only people invested in saving The Bell; there’s a line-up of characters who are hoping to see the coaching inn restored to its former glory. But it’s difficult to determine who is a friend and who is a foe when so many people are whispering in their ears to offer their own sage advice for saving The Inn. Readers come to learn that both women have a long and tangled past that ties them to numerous residents in Ivy Hill. Will their pasts becoming the undoing of their own futures at The Inn or will they find a way to forge a bond that will allow them to each reclaim what’s most essential to them at The Bell?
Throughout the story, we also become better acquainted with several supporting characters in the story and I liked how Ms. Klassen fleshed out their storylines too and created scenarios for them that will follow them the next book in this series. I especially enjoyed Rachel Ashford’s storyline, a woman who at 27 years old is mourning the recent death of her father while also struggling to find her way in the world as an impoverished gentlewoman. She’s the kind of woman that I think many readers will enjoy reading about and I believe her storyline will receive a good deal of attention in the next book in this series, The Ladies of Ivy Cottage.
Julie Klassen is a new author for me, and I was really honored to be invited by Bethany House to review this book for this blog tour. As most people know, I read a lot of Jane Austen Fan Fiction and this is a little out of my typical reading routine; however, I really enjoyed the change of pace that reading this story offered to me.
Ms. Klassen definitely takes her time to establish the background of her characters and provide readers with a solid understanding of each character’s past connected to Ivy Hill, as well as to the central characters. I anticipate that this series will be well over 1,000 pages in its entirety, so it’s a credit that Ms. Klassen that she spent about 30% of this story setting up the backgrounds of her characters, which allows us to get up close and personal with the numerous characters in this series. It also speaks to her ability to bring to life this tight-knit coaching inn community in a manner that allows us to connect with and understand the struggles that are being faced by her central and supporting characters. Her characters are written with a complexity that made me come to empathize and root for them, even with the characters who I felt had less than admirable motives within this storyline because I came to understand how their pasts affected their personalities as well as their present-day actions.
I also want to share that I read a good portion of this book as an audiobook. Narrator Elizabeth Jasicki does a fabulous job bringing this coaching community to life through her skillful character renditions and her ability to connect with the text in a way that brought the story to life. She shifts seamlessly between the characters and her accent along with her accurate pronunciations of words made this a delightful audiobook to listen to. Her pacing felt consistent with the pace of the story and allowed me to easily follow along with the story’s multiple storylines and characters. She’s definitely a narrator I’d look for in future audiobook selections!
It took me a while to connect with the story, but once I did, I found myself looking forward to going back to spend more time at Ivy Hill. The book has numerous characters to keep track of, and I found the supporting web pages on the Tales from Ivy Hill website to be a tremendous resource for this purpose as I read this story.
There’s even a map on this site that allows the reader to envision this quaint coaching inn town, along with some of the hustle and bustle that takes place within the community. I found this recent post by Ms. Klassen, Coaching Inns in Early 19th Century England, to be quite informative and it also allowed me to build my background knowledge about the role of coaching inns during this time period. Book club groups will enjoy the discussion questions that are included in the back of the book.
I can happily recommend this book to readers who enjoy Jane Austen’s books and historical fiction stories that take them back to tight-knit communities in England during this simpler time in the world! I also must add that whenever I read about Darcy and Elizabeth stopping at a coaching inn in a JAFF story, I will also think about my friends in Ivy Hill and how their lives are affected by travelers from near and far.
Book Blurb for The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill
The lifeblood of the village of Ivy Hill is its coaching inn, The Bell. When the innkeeper dies suddenly, his genteel wife, Jane Bell, becomes the reluctant landlady. Jane has no idea how to manage a business, but with the town’s livelihood at stake and a large loan due, she must quickly find a way to save the inn.
Despite their strained relationship, Jane turns to her resentful mother-in-law, Thora, for help. Formerly mistress of The Bell, Thora is struggling to overcome her losses and find purpose for the future. As she works with Jane, two men from her past vie for her attention, but Thora has promised herself never to marry again. Will one of them convince her to embrace a second chance at love?
As pressure mounts from the bank, Jane employs new methods, and puzzles over the intentions of several men who seem to have a vested interest in the place, including a mysterious newcomer with secret plans of his own. With the help of friends old and new, can Jane restore life to the inn, and to her empty heart as well?
Visit talesfromivyhill.com to find a map of the village, character profiles, a book giveaway, and more!
JULIE KLASSEN loves all things Jane–Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full-time. Her books have been honored with the Christy Award for Historical Romance, the Minnesota Book Award, and the Midwest Book Award, among others. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. For more information, visit www.julieklassen.com.
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December 6: Excerpt on My Love for Jane Austen
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December 10: Review on A Bookish Way of Life
December 11: Review and Excerpt on Delighted Reader Book Reviews
December 12: British Show Inspiration Guest Post on Living Read Girl
December 13: Historical Background Guest Post on English Historical Fiction Authors
December 14: Review on Calico Critic
December 15: Excerpt on So Little Time
December 16: Review and Author Q&A on My Jane Austen Book Club
December 17: Review on Just Jane 1813
December 18: Excerpt on Babblings of a Book Worm
December 19: Review on Austenesque Reviews
December 20: Guest Post on Jane Austen in Vermont
December 21: Review on Luxury Reading
Be sure to enter the giveaway before you leave—the winner will receive a $20 Teavana gift card and a package of four inspirational British romances from four different eras (The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen, A Haven on Orchard Lane by Lawana Blackwell, The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White, Not by Sight by Kate Breslin). The winner will be notified on December 22.
To enter the giveaway, visit this Rafflecopter link.
I’d like to thank Amy Green from Bethany House Publishers and Julie Klassen for inviting me to be part of this lovely blog tour.
Please comment below and say hello to Julie Klassen along this book tour! I hope you consider this book as a read for your own TBR lists.